As part of the Student Voices contest, 6th graders write about changes they want to see in the world.
Each year, 6th graders excitedly send in their submissions to the Friends Journal Student Voices Project, a competition open to Quaker students and students at Friends schools. “It couldn’t be more perfect,” says Becky Farnum, one of the three 6th grade teachers who incorporate the contest into their curricula. “Not only is it an opportunity to write, but I really believe in sending students’ work out into the world. … It always ties into appropriate class discussions and always hits current events, which we study in class as well.”
Past topics have included the process of building community; the relationship between peace, conflict, and justice; and integrity. One recent topic was “Dear President.”
Though the letters weren’t due until February, the theme was assigned before the contentious 2016 election took place, so for a while the students had no idea whom they would be writing to. They spent the interim studying and discussing the election with their classmates and, by the time the election rolled around, had developed a range of interesting thoughts and ideas on a variety of different issues. Their letters to President Trump covered everything from healthcare access to gender discrimination to the nature of truth to books they’d recommend.
One student, Hillary F., discussed the problem of education inequality, writing, “Many children today don’t have access to learning resources at school such as supplies, full libraries, computers, or the internet. This means they cannot learn at the same level as children who attend schools with abundant resources. … We need to provide more funding to public schools.”
“You should treat people fairly, treat people with respect, and treat people equally,” advised Jackson F., harking back to Quaker values. “Albert Einstein once said, ‘Before God we are equally wise and equally foolish.’ … You should not show prejudices no matter what color people’s skin is or what religion they practice.”
Della C. had thoughts to share about discrimination she’s noticed in athletics. “People say things like ‘Girls aren’t strong!’ or ‘Girls can’t play sports!’” she wrote. “But I don’t agree with that. To me, girls can do anything. And that’s what I want the world to understand.”
Ava G. offered wisdom about how to keep a clear head in the face of conflict. She told President Trump, “Something … that I have learned in school is that it is always important to stay calm even if something is stressful. Whether making a big decision or just feeling nervous about something going on, if you stay calm it is easier to think and stay focused.”
After the letters were finished, the 6th grade didn’t just send them on to the Friends Journal—they also sent them to the White House. “I try to do something with all the writing we do in the classroom,” explains Becky. “I send them out whenever I can, especially when students write letters. I try to have their work result in something that they can share and show, something that feels very real.”